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Trump urges House Republicans to kill FISA bill, adding to headaches for Speaker Johnson

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – APRIL 02: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event on April 02, 2024 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


Former President Donald Trump urged House Republicans to reject a surveillance reauthorization bill ahead of a key procedural vote Wednesday, adding to headaches for Republican leaders who have struggled to gain support for the legislation as it faces resistance from conservative hardliners.

“KILL FISA,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social.

Trump’s entry into the debate poses a major problem for House Speaker Mike Johnson and could jeopardize the entire bill, as some hard-liners were already either critical of of the measure, or hesitant about it.

House Republicans are fiercely divided over how to handle the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, putting pressure on Johnson to find a path forward among competing factions within his conference. With the looming threat of a vote on his ouster, the Louisiana Republican’s every action is subject to even more intense scrutiny, and the speaker has once again found himself in conflict with his right flank over the law on monitoring.

Johnson previously announced that the House would consider a FISA reauthorization bill this week. The bill, titled the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, would reauthorize FISA Section 702 for five years and aims to impose a series of reforms.

However, in a sign of trouble ahead for GOP leaders, at least one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has already said he will vote against a procedural vote expected Wednesday afternoon, meaning President Johnson cannot afford to lose just one more.

Johnson told members during a closed-door conference Wednesday morning that he spoke with Trump Tuesday evening. But, according to the members, Johnson told them they did not discuss FISA.

The authority relating to section 702 was extended until April 19 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The law, as it stands, authorizes the U.S. intelligence community to collect communications records of foreign persons based abroad, but it also authorizes the FBI to search the data it collects for information about Americans in what critics called “backdoor” research.

Searches for information on U.S. persons are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say loopholes allow the FBI to search for information on Americans in the data it collects – as opposed to that of the Americans. foreign adversaries – without proper justification.

The complex politics surrounding the law have long united strange bedfellows: Some conservative Republicans have joined forces with progressive Democrats to push for reforms to the authority, while Democrats and Republicans, focused on security, opposed major new restrictions.

A major sticking point is whether the FBI should be required to obtain a warrant before querying the database for information on U.S. citizens.

In a sign of how difficult this issue is for House Republicans, leaders withdrew two surveillance bills in December amid internal GOP divisions. In February, a spokesperson for the president said the House would consider FISA reform “at a later date” to allow more time to build consensus on a path forward.

The authority also became a high-profile political target of conservative Republicans after it was revealed that another section of FISA was inappropriately used to surveil 2016 Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

In his call to “kill FISA,” Trump wrote on Truth Social: “IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPY ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

“FISA and Section 702 have been essential to intercepting the communications of dangerous foreign actors abroad, understanding threats to our country, countering our adversaries, and saving countless American lives,” Johnson said in a letter to his colleagues on Friday. “Our responsibility is now simple: maintain the tool but strictly prohibit future abuse.”

The speaker added that the bill the House is expected to pass includes reforms “that will establish new procedures to rein in the FBI, increase accountability at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), impose sanctions for wrongdoing and will institute an unprecedented procedure. transparency throughout the FISA process so that we no longer have to wait years to uncover potential abuses.

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.

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